Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dr. Hollywood: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Misleading Speculative Fiction

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello is the book on which the upcoming film Hitchcock is based. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as Hitch and his wife Alma, respectively, I was very excited when I saw the first trailer for the film. I then made the decision to read Rebello’s book before seeing the movie. That might have been a mistake… but more on that later.

As the title of Rebello’s book might suggest, this is an overview of the making of Psycho. Stephen Rebello begins at the most logical place: with a brief overview of the gruesome Ed Gein murder case. If you have no idea who Gein was, consider yourself lucky, because this might well be the most heinous killer I have ever heard of. The things he did with the corpses of his victims made me sick to the stomach, and I have no idea how I managed to get through such a brief summary of the case; I can’t imagine what a more in-depth look at the crime would read like.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rivers of Blood

The Wyvern Company were really no better than a group of medieval thugs. While on the warpath in France, the company sacked a French abbey and ran off with (among other things) the sacred Bloodstone ruby, allegedly collected from the blood of Christ while he hung on the cross. The ruby was given into the possession of Sir Robert Kilverby, a wealthy merchant, whose duty it is to produce the Bloodstone twice a year and who is safeguarding it until such a time as the Wyvern Company dies off.

That day might come sooner than expected, because somebody is murdering members of the Wyvern Company one by one. But Sir Robert Kilverby is also found dead, poisoned inside of a locked room. How was the crime committed? Lucky for us, Brother Athelstan investigates the matter, and in good time a second impossibility is thrown in the good brother’s face when a fire is started from inside of a locked room: how could the culprit have started the fire without waking the room’s occupant and without disturbing the locked door?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cyber Monday Madness!!!

Yesterday was Cyber Monday, and to celebrate, The Mysterious Press marked down prices on all its titles by 80%. I'd be a fool not to take advantage of such an opportunity in the Kindle store, and so I merrily made my way through the publisher's catalogue on my Kindle Paperwhite. I took advantage of this sale to complete my e-collections by Charlotte Armstrong and David Handler, and made some serious headway on the Stuart Kaminsky, Ron Goulart, and Ross Thomas fronts. And then just for fun I got some random Edgar winning titles. And then just for fun I listened to recommendations. And then, for even more fun, I picked a few random titles that seemed interesting. So when the dust settled, I ended up with 38 new Kindle books. Here they are below, grouped by author:
I bought this one days before the sale.

THE BETTER TO EAT YOU – Charlotte Armstrong
A LITTLE LESS THAN KIND – Charlotte Armstrong
CATCH-AS-CATCH-CAN – Charlotte Armstrong
THE BLACK-EYED STRANGER – Charlotte Armstrong
A DRAM OF POISON – Charlotte Armstrong
THE INNOCENT FLOWER – Charlotte Armstrong
THE TURRET ROOM – Charlotte Armstrong
THE CHOCOLATE COBWEB – Charlotte Armstrong
THE UNSUSPECTED – Charlotte Armstrong
THE GIFT SHOP – Charlotte Armstrong
DEADLY IMAGE – George Harmon Coxe
HOPSCOTCH – Brian Garfield
BIG BANG – Ron Goulart
BRAINZ, INC. – Ron Goulart
A COLD RED SUNRISE – Stuart Kaminsky
JEOPARDY IS MY JOB – Stephen Marlowe
KILLERS ARE MY MEAT – Stephen Marlowe
DANGER IS MY LINE – Stephen Marlowe

You should see me right now-- I'm as pleased as the cat who knows perfectly well where the canary has disappeared to. This should keep me out of trouble for the next two days. (*wink, wink*) I hope people saw the sale in time to take advantage of it-- and hopefully the Mysterious Press does this again next year! Here's to the wonders of discovering new authors!

Saturday, November 24, 2012


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a novel by Michael Chabon that takes place in an alternate history. Nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel and winner of a Hugo Award, the novel postulates that during WWII, Alaska was set aside as a place for Jewish refugees. As a result, only two million Jews died in the Holocaust, Hitler defeated Russia, Berlin was destroyed by a nuclear bomb, and John F. Kennedy married Marilyn Monroe.

But the Jews’ time in Alaska is up, and the territory is set to revert to the United States’ control. In the chaos of the reversion, a dead Jew is found in a hotel room, a bullet in his head. This looks like a job for Detective What’s-His-Name (I can’t remember), a typical hardboiled detective who’s an alcoholic, has daddy issues, a bad love life, and all the world’s bad luck. In other words, a charming fellow.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Of Saints and Sinners

Deputy Art Oveson is a young man with a wife and two children. He also happens to be a devout Mormon, living in Salt Lake City in the 1930s. Although it’s nicknamed the city of saints, there is more to Salt Lake City than meets the eye. As clean and virtuous as its exterior may seem, it is a city with more than its fair share of crime and corruption, and pretty soon, Oveson finds himself smack in the center of it all.

It all begins when a wealthy socialite is found dead, brutally murdered by being repeatedly run over with a car. The late Helen Pfalzgraf was the wife of prominent physician Dr. Pfalzgraf, whose reputation as a doctor is nation-wide. The newspapers seize on the story and before long they are calling for someone’s head. Sheriff Cannon, who is heading the investigation, is an incompetent buffoon who is seeking re-election, and decides that the Pfalzgraf case is a top-priority matter—after all, if the case is solved quickly, it’ll be a feather in Cannon’s cap and will make his re-election that much easier…

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Demon in My View

Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins has just lost his job at the factory. He is desperate for money in order to pay his mortgage on his home. But you see, Easy is a black man in post-WWII Los Angeles, and the world isn’t particularly kind to people of his race. But Easy’s luck is about to change. He is introduced to DeWitt Albright, a shady character who takes care of people’s problems. Albright wants to find a white girl, and his only lead is that she may have been frequenting the kind of clubs that Easy visits. So DeWitt subcontracts: Easy is to find the girl and let Albright know where she is.

That’s easier said than done. Easy is very soon arrested for a murder, and he finds himself thrust into a racially segregated world where rich men fix election results from the comfort of their office and where police treat black men like they are the scum of the earth. The result is a highly stylised, dark, and tough private-eye novel in the vein of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Dreams May Come

The Dream Walker is about a young woman named Olivia Hudson, a teacher at a fashionable girls’ school, aged 34. She is narrating her story into a tape recorder as a break from looking at a Portugal-shaped crack in her ceiling. And the tale she tells is a fantastic one: it is the story of a plot to bring down a well-regarded man. But how do you do that? According to Armstrong, you need a crazy plan, one so insane that even when it is exposed it is hard to believe that someone would go to all that trouble to fool people. Such a plot apparently took place.

The target of this plot was John Paul Marcus, a highly respected man whose advice led to Raymond Pankerman’s illegal activities being discovered. Now, Pankerman desires revenge, and right on cue he met Kent Shaw, who devised a brilliant and completely mad plan to bring about Marcus’ downfall. Four people were in on the plot, and Ollie tells us all about it. For although the truth is now known, the damage to Marcus’ reputation has been done, and this is Ollie’s attempt to undo it. But it’s hard work: “Respect is a kind of Humpty Dumpty. All the King’s horses can’t put it all the way up, again.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Thing

I read Rivers of London around Halloween, but I never got around to posting my review. I thought it would be a perfect read for the time of year, combining the detective story with the fantasy genre. The plot basically revolves around a gruesome series of murders with a supernatural origin. Some thing is causing normal residents of London to go around brutally murdering each other. Police constable Peter Grant is present at the scene of the first murder, and when his friend goes off to get coffees for them both, a man walks up to Peter telling him he witnessed the crime. Only there’s a bit of a catch: the witness is a ghost.

And thus Peter soon finds himself working for a division of Scotland Yard that deals specifically with the supernatural. Only it’s not quite what it sounds like: there are literally only two people, counting Peter, working for this division, and it seems like half of Scotland Yard is in on the secret. Either way, author Ben Aaronovitch manages to write a good story, which isn’t quite fair-play detection but it isn’t in full cheat-the-reader mode either.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Death of a Reviewer

John Riddell, book reviewer for Vanity Fair, is dead. The medical examiner has viewed the body and has confirmed everyone’s worst fears: the poor man died of boredom right in his own library, surrounded by the previous year’s bestsellers! How lucky that Philo Vance is on hand, having had some previous experience with this sort of thing. *

* “The Benson Murder Case” (Scribners); “The ‘Canary’ Murder Case” (Ibid.); “The Greene Murder Case: (Ibid.); “The Bishop Murder Case” (Ibid.); and “The Scarab Murder Case” (Ibid.)

As you can perhaps guess, today’s book is a parody: The John Riddell Murder Case, written by “John Riddell”. Actually, the author is American humourist Corey Ford. The John Riddell Murder Case is one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read in any genre, period. This is just one of those books that is full of laugh-out-loud moments, especially if you know what is being parodied. And the targets are varied: not only is S. S. Van Dine a target, so are such various people as Robert Frost, Dashiell Hammett, and ex-President Calvin Coolidge! What could possibly bring such different people together?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Murder... with an Overpowering Dose of Romance Thrown In

The first time we met MI5-man-turned Anglican priest Max Tudor, he soon became involved in a murder investigation in a book entitled Wicked Autumn by G. M. Malliet. Now, Father Max is back in A Fatal Winter, the second instalment of the series. In this book, Max Tudor gets involved in a conversation on a train with an elderly lady. She turns out to be Lady Baynard, a well-to-do woman residing at the nearby Chedrow Castle, and her snobbery seems like something out of Victorian England. So Father Max listens without listening and manages to live through the train ride home…

Unfortunately, his fellow passenger isn’t quite so lucky. Not long after her chat with Father Max, Lady Baynard meets her death. But before she died, her brother Oscar, Lord Footrustle, was savagely murdered with a knife. Lady Baynard seems to have died of natural causes, but the police are not satisfied, and seem to think that she may have died of the shock of finding out that her brother was killed. Either way you look at it, it’s a mess, and the police turn to Father Max to solve the case.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

An Update on the 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge


Unfortunately, my last post on the 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge was something of a resignation. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I decided that it was impossible for me to continue the challenge with the themes I had chosen at the start of the year. I then promised that I would finish the Challenge, but under new themes. I have finally chosen the themes and rearranged my previous reads to fit them. The results are most interesting, if I say so myself. So, without further ado, I present to you the new-and-improved reading lists for the 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.

Lethal Locations

The Castleford Conundrum by J. J. Connington
Death in Harley Street by John Rhode
Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
L'Assassin habite au 21 (The Murderer Lives at No. 21) by S. A. Steeman
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen
Cherchez Le Homme

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Cop Hater by Ed McBain
Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes
Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
Six crimes sans assassin (Six Crimes Without a Murderer) by Pierre Boileau
The Tau Cross Mystery by J. J. Connington


Ladies and gentlemen, I have some very sad news. I hate to do this, but there is simply no way I can complete the 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge as I’d intended.

When I set out to do the challenge, I had my reading scheduled, all neat and tidy. But things happened. I got hired in the local car factory’s paint shop over the summer, and was instantly so busy that I lost almost 1/3 of my year’s reading time. Once that was over, I did some renovation work around the house, mainly painting. (I took two weeks of my time after school to surprise my parents by painting the rooms downstairs while they were away.)

So now we’re in November, and when I went to order some of the items from the library system, I made a shocking discovery. While I was working away, the library got rid of most of the items I had intended to read as part of the challenge, including most of the Gladys Mitchell books I had set aside for this purpose. (Also, I just found out that Michael Gilbert’s The Black Seraphim is ineligible for the Challenge, giving me yet another hole.)

I could order these books online and read them all once they came in, but really, that would leave me without any enjoyment of the books themselves, scrambling to meet a deadline. Plus with final exams coming up, I have some more important things on my mind than reading mysteries, as blasphemous as that may sound.

I will complete the Reading Challenge, but I will do so by rearranging my reads from early this year to fit some of the pre-arranged themes. But unfortunately, it’s just not going to go as originally planned. This move will allow me some greater freedom as a reader, which will come in particularly handy come exam season.

On the bright side, the two themes I initially set out to complete have appeared surprisingly often on the blog for ineligible books. For instance, Donald E. Westlake's God Save the Mark appeared seven years too late for eligibility, but a review is coming out soon. Westlake also wrote a book called Humans in which God decides to wipe out humanity... but in Westlake's hand, even the Apocalypse can't run smoothly. (It's a book I might end up reading this year, though I'm not quite sure.) What about Keigo Higashino's Salvation of a Saint? Later on, I will be reading Devil in a Blue Dress for a class. So in a way, the themes will live on...

The Horror is introducing a new series of stories called Bibliomysteries. The concept of the series is relatively simple: these are all relatively short tales centered on some sort of deadly book, manuscript, etc. Four titles will be released on November 12th by some prominent authors: Anne Perry, C. J. Box, Jeffrey Deaver, and Ken Bruen all contribute a tale.

In Anne Perry’s The Scroll, the book that sets the entire plot in motion is the titular scroll. It all starts with Monty Danforth. He’s an employee at a used bookstore, and the owner just bought a large crate of books from an estate auction. At the bottom of the crate lies an ancient scroll, not included among the catalogue of items. Intrigued, Monty takes a closer look: it looks like an old scroll, and the language is unfamiliar. Monty decides to photocopy the scroll in order to get a translation done, but the photocopier refuses to do its job—although it scans other documents just fine. So he tries to take a picture… and the scroll shows up clearly on the picture, but the text has vanished.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Acquisitive Chuckle

Regular readers of mine are probably aware, by now, of this semi-regular “showing off acquisitions” series, which due to a lack of originality from my part is undergoing a reboot today. I don’t have much to share this time but what I do have to share is fairly major. And so without further ado, let’s get down to business. Well, pictures speak louder than words, so let this image speak for itself:

That’s right, the complete set of Columbo arrived for me just this morning, after I began worrying it may have been lost in the mail. This is a terrific series starring the late, great Peter Falk in the titular role. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes, watching the series sporadically, but I liked every episode very much, and now I’ll have the ability to catch up with the entire series. I look forward to it.

Can Lightning Strike the Same Spot Twice?

Hélène Lafaille is dead. When Florence Valentine entered her room, she discovered the woman lying on the floor, lifeless. She’s apparently been murdered: there’s the wound of a blunt instrument on her head, and the police are summoned. But when they arrive, they make an even grislier discovery. Hélène’s twelve-year old boy Roger is outside, dead. He’s been viciously murdered, his face all bloodied.

It turns out that Roger was a beast whose hobbies included tormenting cats and murdering birds. Not only that, it turns out he was in the way of a sizeable inheritance from Monsieur Honoré-Hyacinthe-Henry Van Aa. But the strangest thing turns up at the autopsy: the blood on Roger isn’t real blood. In fact, the little monster died of poison. But why would anyone murder someone and then pretend to murder him all over again??? Things get even more complicated when it turns out that Van Aa died later on the same day as Roger—really some very convenient timing for the other inheritors, wouldn’t you say?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

God Bless Donald E. Westlake

Fred Fitch has got a problem. Actually, he’s got several – you see, Fred Fitch is a conman’s dream: a born mark. Fred simply is so naïve that any convincing person can come up to him and walk away with Fred’s money, and only after the fact does Fred tumble to the whole trick. Here, let him explain for himself:

“I suppose it all began twenty-five years ago, when I returned home from my first day of kindergarten without my trousers. I did have the rather vague notion they’d been traded to some classmate, but I couldn’t remember what had been given to me in exchange, nor did I seem to have anything in my possession that hadn’t already belonged to me when I’d left for school, a younger and happier child, at nine that morning. Nor was I sure of the identity of the con infant who had done me in, so that neither he nor my trousers were ever found.”

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Above the Law

Usually, when I review a French book on this site, I spend my time moaning about how unfair it is that it has not been translated into English. But today, the situation is different. Yes, I am reviewing a book that was originally written in French, but it has been translated and published in English. This is thanks to the efforts of a new company called Le French Book. According to their website, Le French Book “brings France's best crime fiction, thrillers, novels, short stories, and non-fiction to new readers across the English-speaking world. If we love it, we’ll translate it.”

So far, three mysteries have been translated and published, and hopefully more are on their way. One of these is a book by Fréderique Molay entitled The Seventh Woman. I wouldn’t exactly call it a mystery, though—this is far more of a thriller, and that feeling was only amplified by the main character’s name: Nico Sirsky. Maybe it’s a sign of my maturity (or rather lack thereof) but I kept envisioning Steven Seagal, who played a character named Nico Toscani in Above the Law. (For the record, I don’t particularly like Seagal, but as his movies go Above the Law is better than most of the others.)

Friday, November 02, 2012

Set Sail for Murder

I was asked to review Marsali Taylor’s Death on a Longship all the way back in August, but I still had a summer job and school was around the corner, not to mention I had other review requests to get out of the way. So I had to decline an opportunity to be part of a book tour, although our good friend the Puzzle Doctor participated. The review was extremely positive, and so it made me eager to get around to reading this book. Unfortunately, with midterms, work, and unexpected stuff happening left and right, it took me well over three weeks to read this book. However, I’m glad to report that I easily kept track of everything. I never felt lost and when I picked up the book to read some more, I never felt like I had to refresh my memory on what I had read before. Marsali Taylor has written a very pleasant read.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The whole story revolves around Cass Lynch, a native of the Shetland Isles who returns to her homeland as part of a film crew, proudly skippering the replica Viking longship Stormfugl. This is being used for Ted Tarrant’s latest film, starring his beloved wife Favelle. They are Hollywood’s Golden Couple—Ted directs, Favelle stars, and come Oscar season they sweep all the awards out from under Steven Spielberg’s nose. (Seriously, how else do you explain his being snubbed as Best Director for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Munich? For that matter, how did Martin Scorsese not win for Goodfellas?)